Academic Freedom Bill Season

Last week, Mississippi lawmakers introduced the first anti-evolution bill of 2010. The bill, sponsored by state Rep. Gary Chism, and which has been referred to the House Education Committee, would require lesson plans on evolution to have “proportionately equal instruction from educational materials that present scientifically sound arguments by protagonists and antagonists of the theory of evolution.”

Each year, various conservative state lawmakers across the country flock back from vacation to their new legislative session clutching slightly tweaked versions of such bills. The title “Academic Freedom” sounds noble enough (how could a freedom-loving American oppose such a thing?) but the real purpose is to to proclaim: “Evolution is a lie! Evolution is evil! If your children learn we came from monkeys, they will go to hell!!!!!”

Chism unsuccessfully sponsored similar anti-evolution legislation last year. According to the National Center for Science Education, Chism told the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, “Either you believe in the Genesis story, or you believe that a fish walked on the ground,” and adding, “All these molecules didn’t come into existence by themselves.”

A day after the Mississippi bill was introduced, Missouri lawmakers introduced their own version, which includes the required teaching of “strengths and weaknesses” of evolution. The bill says:

Teachers shall be permitted to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of the theory of biological and hypotheses of chemical evolution.

State Rep. Robert Wayne Cooper (R-District 155), who has been behind a series of failed attempts to pass similar legislation, introduced the bill and has been joined by ten co-sponsors.

As is usually the case with these kinds of sneaky back door attacks on science education, the fingerprints of the pro-intelligent design Discovery Institute are all over it. Since intelligent design was exposed as a fraudulent marketing campaign in the Kitzmiller v. Dover case, “academic freedom” bills have been Discovery’s new strategy for Creationism 3.0.

In 2007, Discovery, along with Motive Marketing, the publicists for the Ben Stein movie Expelled, launched a joint-venture website that not only promoted “academic freedom” bills, but provided sample wording for writing the legislation. Stein held press conferences and showings of the movie—which tries to make the argument (poorly) that academic freedom is under attack because science professors are being persecuted for believing in intelligent design—in states where the bills had been introduced.

Expect more of these bills to be introduced in other states. The blog Stand Up For REAL Science has a nifty widget to keep track of all the introduced legislation.

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